Assistance from government may not be enough for marginal farmers to weather the effects of both the relaxed rules on rice importation and outright grains smuggling, according to Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.
With the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law on 5 March 2019, the government removed the quantitative restrictions on rice importation.
Traders can now bring in unlimited volumes of rice but has to pay a tariff of 35 percent if the rice being imported are sourced from within the ASEAN economic community and up to 180 percent if coming from outside of the bloc.
RA 11203 also created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to be funded from the tariff collected from imported rice, amounting to P10 billion pesos annually for six years, to assist rice farmers with seeds, farm machineries, credit and technical extension.
“Despite the various financial aid, farmers remain submerged in problems as they can’t rise from their current state of penury,” Go noted.
Rice smugglers abound
“Add to that the abuse and deception from several big rice traders and importers. We will not allow these kinds of irregularities,” he explained.
“In the last Senate hearing on the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget, I joined my fellow colleagues in our call to punish unprincipled individuals who are engaged in agricultural smuggling. I reached out to the Department of Justice to prosecute those who should be accountable. This has become an issue, since 2013. The Committee on Agriculture and the Blue Ribbon summoned then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as one of the resource persons, I accompanied him during his tertimony,” he explained.
Go was apparently referring to suspected grains smuggler Davidson Bangayan or David Tan who controlled illegal operations from Mindanao and was recently indicted by the Department of Justice.
Bangayan, in the previous administration, was an untouchable and even flaunted his influence during Senate investigations held in 2014 on rice smuggling.